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Double Dutch

Posted by Bruce Kahl on September 15, 2000

In Reply to: Double Dutch posted by Bob on September 15, 2000

: : : We know what the phrase means but not how it originated. Any ideas welcome.

: : : Reg

: : : Ian Frame

: : The "Morris Dictionary of Phrase and Word Origins" has a lengthy entry about the use of the word "Dutch" in phrases. "Probably no nationality has come in for so consistent a torrent of verbal abuse from the English as their neighbors across the channel the Dutch...It was not always thus. Until well after Shakespeare's time, the Dutch were usually well regarded in all literary references by British authors." Mr. and Mrs. Morris say "'Double dutch' is a kind of talk deliberately intended to deceive the listener."

: There's also the urban jump-rope game Double Dutch, very popular with African American girls, where two ropes are twirled in opposite directions by two girls, and one jumps in the center. How did that name arise?

To the unaccustomed ear, Dutch appears to be constituted of grunts and growls, occasionally added snarls and k-sounds which some would hear as double talk which became known as double dutch!

Strangely enough the development of the English language is the cause of today's problems with Dutch word order and pronunciation.
After the withdrawal from Britain of the Romans in the 5th century, the Celtic king, Vortigern entered into an agreement with a few Germanic mercenaries and asked them to help him drive out the Scots and the Picts. But after doing so the continental tribes decided to stay. From the 5th century onwards, English and Dutch were basically dialects of the same language, explaining why they share a basic Germanic vocabulary. Many dutch words will look familiar to an English speaker because they are similar (e.g. to sink=zinken; sun=zon; moon=maan; land=land; father=vader; mother=moeder; blind=blind; to shine=schijnen etc.)

If William the Conqueror would have stayed home in Normandy in 1066 nothing would have happened and the Dutch would still be speaking more or less the same language. But, he didn't and defeated the British at the Battle of Hastings.

From that day on, French was the official language among nobility, gentry and the upper classes for almost two hundred years. The commoners, however, continued to speak English.

But, when English was reinstated in the 14th century as the official language of Britain, it had by then changed too much to still resemble Dutch.

. Dutch comfort=cold comfort
. Dutch concert=pandemonium
. Dutch courage=the courage of drink
. Dutch crossing=crossing the street slant wise
. Dutch treat=each pays for their own expenses
. Going Dutch=sharing the bill
. Dutch f**k=lighting a cigarette with another